Democrats started 2022 crowing about key triumphs in redistricting scrums across the country. But now, their mood is growing gloomier as the line-drawing battles end with bleak House race prospects heading into the midterm elections.
The party has seen some of its earliest victories evaporate during recent weeks as Republicans raked in stunning court wins and are now poised to pick up three to four seats from apportionment alone. This is key for House Republicans' quest to win a majority in November, which requires a net gain of at least five seats.
NEW YORK COURT CEMENTS DEMOCRATIC BLOODBATH WITH NEW MAP
"The string of legal setbacks the Democrats have suffered since late February has been staggering," Dave Wasserman, a national elections analyst for the Cook Political Report, told the Washington Examiner. "When you put it all together, just about everything's going right for Republicans."
Last week, New York's Supreme Court made the obliteration of the Democrats’ crown jewel of redistricting official. It imposed a map that set several key House Democrats on a collision course with one another and ceded Republicans an opportunity to gain seats in the deep-blue state.
Democrats had seized control of the redistricting process in the Empire State from the state's Independent Redistricting Commission after it had been deadlocked. Thinking the stalemate fronted the party an opportunity to broaden its congressional edge in the state, Democratic state lawmakers crafted a map to give them a whopping 22 of the state’s 26 congressional seats, up from their current 19–8 majority, according to several estimates. (New York is losing a House district due to comparatively slow population growth in the decade before the 2020 census.)
But the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals determined Democrats flouted the state Constitution by bypassing the commission. Now, the new court-imposed map makes districts far more competitive, with any outcome between a 16-10 to a 21–5 Democrat-to-Republican split possible, according to Wasserman. That’s bad news for Democrats, especially in a cycle that has been speculated to be a red wave and could result in them losing ground in the reliably blue state.
"It depends on the year," Wasserman said about the new map's impact on Democratic congressional seats. "The new plan is about three seats worse for Democrats than the plan the legislature adopted and Gov. Hochul signed that was subsequently struck down. A three-seat shift is pretty massive."
Compounding the problem for Democrats is the fact that in other places where Republicans control the redistricting process, state courts have been much more willing to let partisan gerrymanders stand. In Florida, a lower state court judge has indicated the GOP likely violated the state’s Fair District Amendment, which is intended to curb gerrymandering and ensure adequate minority representation in congressional districts. However, instead of nixing the whole map, the judge issued a narrowly tailored order revising the allotment for a specific district. Another court countered that last week, leaving open the possibility a similar map could remain in place for the midterm elections to the benefit of the GOP.
National Republicans had initially fretted about the prospect of unresolved intraparty melees in Florida, New Hampshire, and Missouri kicking apportionment power they controlled to the courts for less favorable outcomes. In hindsight, however, late map enactments may have proven to be somewhat advantageous, enabling the clock to run out on key legal challenges to their preferred apportionment. With filing deadlines and primary dates approaching, courts have shown apprehension over torpedoing elections by cutting down maps.
This was the case in Ohio, where the state Supreme Court announced it would not rule on the state’s congressional map until after the primary despite having stricken similar maps in the past. This means Republicans will likely have an opportunity to pick up an extra seat in the midterm election in the Buckeye State, and it gives Republicans time to push the makeup of the high court in a more favorable direction. North Carolina is in a somewhat similar situation. Although the high court was more favorable to Democrats this cycle, Republicans could be poised to change the makeup of the court after 2022, allowing them to reverse their redistricting woes in the Old North State.
"If anything, the outlook is going to get better for Republicans in Ohio and North Carolina where Republicans are on track to reclaim control or claim control of the state Supreme Courts, which could give a green light to Republican gerrymanders there," Wasserman explained.
It remains to be seen how the timing of enactment will play out in Florida, as challenges to the Sunshine State’s map make their way up the state’s courts amid looming election-related deadlines. The current map is expected to bolster the GOP’s current 16-11 congressional edge to 20-8. Florida gained a seat in this round of reapportionment due to its fast population growth.
State Republicans managed to resolve an impasse in Florida last month and in Missouri last week, staving off a court takeover in Republican-controlled states. New Hampshire remains unresolved with the possibility of a one-seat pickup for the GOP hanging in the balance as the courts undergo preparations for a takeover. New Hampshire is the sole state in the country without a legally binding map.
Additionally, Democrats were dealt a surprise loss in Kansas last week, when the Democratic-leaning state Supreme Court upheld a GOP-friendly map, endangering the state’s sole Democratic seat. The loss comes on top of less than ideal outcomes in Maryland, Wisconsin, and other states over recent weeks.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
Democrats mobilized aggressively for this round of redistricting, reeling from considerable setbacks during the last round in 2011. Although Republicans began the process with favorable census data allotting more seats to red states such as Florida and Texas at the expense of California and New York, Democrats tapped high-powered lawyers and eked out early wins in places including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and elsewhere.
"If we had the resources that they had or even half of that, we would have been in an even stronger position than we are. So, I hope that Republicans can see the value in what we do now, and we can build on that in the next 10 years," Adam Kincaid, the president and executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, told the Washington Examiner.
As time went on, state dynamics seemingly became more favorable to the GOP. Despite having commenced the redistricting cycle defending a somewhat favorable map, the GOP has seemingly managed to further its national edge. Still, Democrats have taken solace in the fact that they have staved off worse Republican advances.
“The clear result of the 2022 redistricting cycle is this: Republicans failed in their goal of using the redistricting process to ensure themselves a ‘durable’ House majority for the decade. Instead, there are fair maps in many states around the country, where the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures will be decided by the voters, not predetermined by the map drawers. This is a win for Democrats, but much more importantly it is a win for our democracy,” Kelly Burton, president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.